The Diplomat Q&A: Russia sees Seychelles as leader in Blue Economy
The Russian Ambassador to Seychelles, Artyom Kozhin, was accredited to Seychelles in March 2020.
(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles' relations with the Russian Federation date back to the Soviet Union period of Russian history when the Soviet government established diplomatic relations with Seychelles on June 30,1976, the day after the island nation was given independence by the British government.
A year later, when the then Prime Minister France-Albert Rene led a coup d'état against President James R. Mancham, Seychelles turned into a one-party state founded on socialist principles and became part of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Despite this policy, the new President Rene was known for performing an artful balancing act between his treatment of the two superpowers during the Cold War: the United States and the Soviet Union. Therefore, Seychelles received aid from both and allowed both to use the country for their strategic military and intelligence purposes.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the newly formed Russian Federation continued to have good relations with Seychelles, particularly assisting the country in the fields of education, health, and naval training.
Today, Russia is best known as being one of the largest contributors to the Seychelles tourism industry with direct flights from Moscow by Aeroflot and a large influx of tourists. Russians also own hotels and holiday homes in the islands.
The Russian Ambassador to Seychelles, Artyom Kozhin, was accredited to Seychelles in March 2020.
The SNA recently met with Kozhin to discuss his work in Seychelles, as well as wider foreign policy in Africa and the rest of the world.
SNA: What are your plans for the year?
AK: The year 2023 is a special year as we are getting prepared for the second Russia-Africa Summit which is scheduled to take place in July in St. Petersburg. We are expecting delegations from all African states to come and we hope that Seychelles will be represented at the highest level, especially considering that President Vladimir Putin has already sent an official invitation to President Wavel Ramkalawan to come to the summit and to head the Seychelles delegation.
We believe that Seychelles can make a feasible contribution to the summit’s outcomes. There are several things that Seychelles is a champion in and, as an example, let's take the Blue Economy. We think that Seychelles is one of the leading global speakers on this issue. We'd be more than happy to listen to Seychelles and to get more of Seychelles’ expertise in this area.
The first summit that took place in 2019 in Sochi proved to be very successful. In general, the event comprises a political summit for the leaders to discuss the most vital issues, including those of Russia-African ties, and an economic forum which is a fantastic opportunity for Russia and African states to give a significant impetus to economic cooperation.
It will potentially enable the participants to have deals worth billions of dollars, and of course, this is going to be a win-win situation. It has always been the case in our relations with Africa.
SNA: Tell us how you see the cooperation between Seychelles and Russia.
AK: The cooperation between Russia and Seychelles is a long one, and throughout the history of our bilateral ties, it has always been full of mutual respect. In 2021, we celebrated 45 years of diplomatic relations and 140 years of the first direct contact between Russians and Seychellois. Since 1881, our ships have been making calls to Port Victoria. The first friendly contacts laid a very good foundation for our relations at the present time.
After Seychelles gained independence in 1976, our country has contributed a lot to the sustainable development of the archipelago. Apart from mutually beneficial economic cooperation, we have assisted in training a large number of local specialists, including doctors, engineers, educators, journalists and Coast Guard officers. Most of that was done through offering scholarships at our universities. This tradition continues, though at a lesser scale. I think some fine tuning needs to be done in this respect, for us to better understand the needs of Seychelles. That would make it possible to offer more targeted scholarships. We are working closely on this with the authorities. I hope this practice will continue and Seychelles will continue to benefit from that.
The Russian business presence nowadays in Seychelles is very sufficient. That includes the most important segments of the local economy, first of all, the tourism industry. Several large hotels are operated by our entrepreneurs. The Russians are involved in promoting travel to Seychelles through tour agencies, there is a lot of support staff here, such as tourist guides, interpreters, and lawyers. We see tourism as the backbone of the local economy and we are happy to participate in this area. But there are other spheres where our business is active as well, like fisheries, construction and healthcare.
SNA: What are the main projects you envisage with Seychelles?
AK: Speaking of main projects, we have resumed direct flights of the Russian Aeroflot airline between Moscow and Victoria. In 2021, it brought more than 32,000 Russian tourists to Seychelles, and in 2022 – more than 30,000, according to the information provided by the National Bureau of Statistics. We are proud to say that this played a key role in the local post-pandemic recovery. Aeroflot came just at the right time.
|Aeroflot has resumed direct flights between Moscow and Seychelles. (Tourism Seychelles) Photo License: CC-BY
This is also proof of the high demand among Russian tourists to come to Seychelles. They know that the country is friendly, the environment is great, besides, you can go to Seychelles throughout the year, which is especially tempting during the Russian winter.
Russia is currently on the way to once more taking the first position in terms of tourism arrivals. We had a brief technical pause in the Aeroflot flights in 2022, but they resumed in October of last year.
And of course, Aeroflot is a bridge that promotes people-to-people contacts and cultural exchange. Our countries enjoy visa-free regime, and Seychellois can equally freely visit Russia.
Speaking of other important things, most recently our countries were united in the fight against COVID-19 when we were busy protecting lives and health of the people. The Russian side donated Sputnik V vaccines and supported the COVID Relief Fund, our businesses helped local hospitals with equipment.
Our dialogue in the field of healthcare continues. We have seen that it is professional and effective.
SNA: Why do you believe Seychelles has a strategic role in the Western Indian Ocean, other than its obvious tourism appeal? What is so interesting here from the perspective of your country's foreign policy and your Embassy's role in Seychelles' society?
AK: I do believe that Seychelles has a strategic role in the Western Indian Ocean, but we must take a broader view of the situation. The changing world obviously reshapes what we call economic geography. Seychelles will be one of the crossroads of the new emerging trade corridors and routes of merchant vessels from all over the world.
But of course, such marine traffic needs protection. These waters used to be dangerous some time ago.
Our country played an important role in safeguarding security and stability in the region. One example was our active participation in fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean under the United Nations mandate within the Contact group on piracy off the coast of Somalia.
As we also know, Seychelles is affected by illegal drug trafficking in the region. There is no doubt that it is one of the most serious global threats and challenges. The fight against it requires professional dialogue and international efforts based on the relevant UN conventions. Bilaterally, we are ready to discuss with Seychelles' agencies the cooperation in fighting this evil.
I also have to mention that we highly appreciate the role of Seychelles in implementing vital ecological projects. The Indian Ocean is a unique environment, and Seychelles with its huge Exclusive Economic Zone does a lot by introducing protected areas. These territories are vast, some being roughly the size of an average European country. It is a move from which mankind can benefit. We can only praise these efforts.
The role of our Embassy, as with any other, is promoting bilateral ties and encouraging all sorts of multifaceted cooperation between our countries.
SNA: In the post-Covid era and the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and the resultant economic consequences, do you believe fewer resources are being directed for aid and cooperation by your country and others towards Africa and small island states?
AK: Russia is a responsible supplier of grain to world markets. It has always been so, and it will always be so. Only during the four last months of 2022, we have supplied 10.5 million tons of grain to world markets, 33 percent of which went to Africa. We are ready to do more. We have plans to export five times more by mid-2023. Such an amount of grain and agricultural products can ensure that there is no food crisis. Unfortunately, because of the illegal Western sanctions, most chains of supply have been ruined.
A number of our ships with aid to Africa are blocked in the European ports. At the same time, Western countries are more worried about their own food security. There were attempts to keep the grain on the European markets and not let it go to Africa. In general, we are ready to export food, but these new obstacles are hindering the process. Same with energy.
We may say though that Seychelles has an advantage in this case. In 2021, Victoria, as the capital of Seychelles, signed the Twin City agreement with the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the Rostov region being one of the strongholds of our agricultural sector. This is one more channel that Seychelles can directly refer to in case there is a shortage.
|Victoria signed the Twin City agreement with the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in 2021. (Russian Embassy) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: Given the state of world affairs today, do you believe the Cold War ever really ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially with the continued expansion of NATO?
AK: After the end of the Cold War, we were open, transparent, and sincerely believed in a new era of peace and cooperation. But it appeared that the Western leaders, especially those of NATO countries, never shared this attitude. They kept expanding their military infrastructure, bringing it closer to our borders. That eventually toppled the security balance in Europe.
In total, we had more than 30 years of negotiations with our Western partners, but we never got any sensible explanation of their activities. Besides, for some reason, the leaders of the West never saw Russia as an equal partner.
It seems that mentally NATO got stuck in the worst times of the Cold War. But, as our Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently said, "the establishment of a multi-polar world is an unstoppable process. The collective West is trying to reverse this process. But these efforts are futile. The closest thing they can count on is a slight slowdown of the objective course of history."
SNA: US defence cooperation with African states, such as Seychelles, is on the increase. How does your government view this turn of events, and do you believe that the Indian Ocean has become a more competitive defense zone, between countries like the US, India, and China?
AK: Every sovereign country has a right to cooperate with any international partner. This is an independent choice. But we believe such cooperation should not be aimed against third parties. We see the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and stability that should not be disturbed by powers not belonging to the region, especially by promoting their military infrastructure.
Piracy, indeed, was a serious challenge, but there are mechanisms within the United Nations that made international cooperation in fighting this challenge possible. It was in line with the provisions of international law.
SNA: What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of your country since World War II, generally, in relation to the African continent?
AK: Our country has played a crucial role in dismantling the system of colonialism and achieving independence by African nations. This is why we have so many friends on the continent.
We have always respected the sovereignty of the African states. Up to this day, we strongly oppose any manifestation of neo-colonialist approach in international relations.
As President Vladimir Putin said in a message to the African leaders, "Russia values the traditionally friendly relations with its African partners, unwaveringly supporting their efforts aimed at resolving local conflicts, countering terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and epidemic diseases, as well as addressing other regional and global security challenges."
SNA: What is your preferred foreign policy theory and how do you believe countries should work together to ensure world peace?
AK: In my mind, the most important instrument of diplomacy is dialogue. This is the key thing in diplomacy. You may disagree on something, which is natural. All independent countries have their own view on things. Parties may disagree, but the dialogue should continue. As long as it is so, there is always a chance to find a solution in any difficult situation. It is a failure of diplomacy when dialogue stops, and this might lead to a crisis. This is why we insist that in any situation the dialogue should continue.
One of our most vibrant Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, used to say that it is better to have ten years of negotiations than one day of conflict. He came from a generation that witnessed the Second World War, so he knew what he was talking about.
SNA: How do you think small states like Seychelles can ensure their sovereignty on the world stage under the vast pressures that are exerted on them by the superpowers?
AK: Philosophically, there are no small states – all states are equal on the world stage. The existing system of international institutions enables every country to have a voice and speak out loud on issues of vital importance, thus securing its sovereignty. Besides, there are superpowers that do not exert pressure – for example, we have never pressurized any of our African partners, including Seychelles. We make emphasis on equal dialogue.
SNA: Do you think that the United Nations still has relevance today? And if not, what should be done?
AK: Absolutely! The United Nations is relevant, and it is a key international organisation. It has proven to be very effective throughout its history. Being a permanent member of the UN Security Council, our country has consistently advocated the strengthening of the international relations framework based on the universal norms of international law, above all on the UN Charter. International law will never be substituted by any sort of “rules-based order”.